How To Choose A Good Divorce Attorney
Going through a divorce is much more than paperwork, finances, and dividing assets and debts. Divorce is a life event…you are transitioning from one chapter to the next. Choosing a “good” attorney to assist you with the divorce process and this life transition is a highly personal decision. Certainly, you should start with friends or family who has worked with an attorney; however, you should still interview at least two attorneys to find a “good” attorney for you.
A good attorney for you will be one who listens to you, understands your goals and preferences, and has the professional skills and knowledge to manage your divorce as you prefer. Here are several tips to help you choose a good attorney for you:
- Know what you want from the attorney. Attorneys can be retained to assist in a limited number of tasks (“limited scope”), or for full representation. In a limited scope arrangement, the attorney represents you for only specifically-identified tasks. For example, you may retain an attorney for representation for a child support request, but not for division of assets and debts. Limited scope representation is most appropriate when there is only one area in dispute. Most clients, however, retain an attorney for full representation – all issues in a case. Full representation makes sense for most clients when there is an overlap of facts and information between issues when the client is unfamiliar with the law, and/or when the client would not be comfortable speaking in front of his/her spouse or the judge.
- How much communication do you want/need directly with the attorney? During your initial conversation with the attorney, ask the attorney about the process for having direct contact with the attorney…will you have to go through the secretary, then the paralegal, and then the attorney? And, do you have to pay for each person’s time, only to repeat yourself again when you are in direct contact with the attorney? In other words, it is reasonable to expect that you will be immediately directed to the most appropriate person who has the knowledge and expertise to address your questions and concerns. You should also feel free to ask about response time… how soon will the attorney respond to your questions or emails?
- What is the attorney’s personality? Even though the attorney-client relationship is a professional relationship, you must be comfortable when working with the attorney and/or his or her staff. Does the attorney patiently listen to your questions and concerns? Is the attorney flexible in his or her approach to your case? If you would like to have easier and more direct contact with the attorney, versus staff, be sure to interview attorneys in smaller firms.
- “Pit Bull” or Strategist? It is rare that a case requires the same approach throughout a case. There are many variables which an attorney should be considered before determining the approach – pit bull, strategist or a bit of both. Pitbull approaches are effective when there are strong facts and law behind that approach. If not, this approach often results in a high attorney’s fees and weaker results. A good attorney will honestly discuss various approaches with you which will most closely match your preferences and available funds for attorney’s fees.
- Does the attorney have a record of discipline with the State Bar of California (or any other state)? Before retaining the attorney, check the State Bar’s website to ensure that he or she does not have a record of discipline. You should also feel free to ask the attorney if he or she has been successfully sued for malpractice or misconduct.
The bottom line is that you should definitely use personal referrals as the starting point in your search for a good attorney for you and your situation. Using these tips during your interview process will help you make a good decision.